It’s taken longer than it should have, but people finally seem to feel more comfortable opening up on personal issues in our current society, whether that be issues involving racism, the #MeToo movement, or, in this case, mental health.
Like so many movements, it can take a celebrity to help jumpstart the action, in which case the mental health conversation and the NBA is no different.
2018 NBA All-Star starter and MVP candidate DeMar DeRozan, a softspoken and quiet person off the court, opened up about his battles with depression, and is hoping that they can help other people.
Perennial All-Star and NBA champion Kevin Love shared some of his instances with anxiety, and panic attacks, in an article with The Players’ Tribune.
Even a bit of a lesser known player, rising star Kelly Oubre, Jr. of the Washington Wizards, talked about his bouts with depression and mental health on a Wizards podcast with NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes and Chris Miller.
And, truthfully, one cannot forget Iowa State star Royce White, who was drafted to the league in 2012 and almost immediately requested a league-wide mental health protocol for his fellow players. White was unfairly shunned out of the league at the time, but is still playing basketball professionally, and certainly laid the groundwork for these big name players to come out now with their stories. (When requested for comment, White did not respond.)
Although this incredibly important worldwide issue of mental health could have been more of a conversation five years ago with White in the league, the NBA is again showing how progressive it is, especially when compared to the likes of the NFL, who has players getting questioned about their sexual orientation as their welcome to the league, and the MLB, who exhibited a clear display of racism by an important player on the league’s biggest stage last season.
Hopefully, only good can come out of the beginnings of this movement, which seems to be the consensus of opinion, at least from people that I talked to about the re-emergence of the conversation on mental health.
Nigel Hayes, former Badgers star, current teammate of DeRozan on the Raptors and more than anything an outspoken athlete in his own right, had this to say about players opening up: “It’s great. I’ve always said it’s everyone’s job to speak on issues and make the world a better place. No different for those that may play basketball a little better than most.” This is no surprise coming from Hayes, who has not only been an advocate for others the last several years while in the public eye, but is also possibly the most well-intentioned and sharpest athlete I have had the pleasure of covering.
Players aren’t the only ones supporting the movement, as I also talked to a couple ESPN reporters that cover the NBA to get their thoughts on the matter.
Nick Friedell, a nationwide NBA Reporter for ESPN, ESPN.com and ESPN 1000 told me, “I think it’s great. It just underscores that everybody is going through something. Hopefully it leads to more people opening up when they feel comfortable.”
Chris Herring, Senior NBA writer for ESPN/FiveThirtyEight, and Adjunct professor at Northwestern, also shared a similar sentiment: “I think it’s great. It also probably prompts other people to come forward.”
Hayes, Friedell, and Herring, all people at the top of their respective professions, feel strongly positive about the actions of DeRozan, Love, Oubre, and hopefully others.
They, along with other athletes that have shown their support on social media, are not the only ones that have been inspired. It does sometimes take people at the prospective “top” of the spectrum to enable non-celebrities to share their stories, and that is exactly what these heroes have done for me.
My name is Nick Osen, and I am a student studying communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I have achieved every major goal I have set out to achieve in my life so far, including but not limited to getting into UW-Madison, covering an NCAA Tournament, and interviewing one of the greatest athletes of our generation, LeBron James.
Yet, there’s still one goal that I chase every single day: happiness in myself.
Anyone that knows me, whether it’s been for five minutes or five years, is likely to know three things about me. I love sports, LeBron James is a real-life hero of mine, and I care about other people. No, I’m not saying I’m Mother Teresa or Saint Nick or anything like that, but truly, nothing is more important to me than the care and well-being of others.
I believe this is the case for a few reasons. Many may say this, but I was raised the right way. With a mom, step-dad and six siblings in one house, and a single dad struggling to make ends meet in another house, we learned pretty quickly that we’re all we got, and that we need to look out for each other, both at home and in the real world.
Unfortunately, I have lost at least three friends, one of them one of the best friends I’ve ever had, to mental illness. I know for a fact that even if I couldn’t have saved his life, in that moment I could have made him feel better, and it hurts me to this day.
And finally, I care so much about people because we really are all we have in this world, and I have felt that at the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows, when I truly wanted to escape this place. I, along with so many other people, get depressed sometimes. I know that I don’t suffer from depression as badly as others may, but I also know that I have thought being dead was the answer to my problems, on at least two scary nights throughout my life.
My name is Nick Osen, and I have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder). It all started when my parents got divorced, and I started being, well, incredibly obsessive at just five years old. I would wash my hands several times within an hour, hit the same light switch at least three times, and repeat myself at least twice when I had something to say.
I started seeing a psychologist for about five years, and after that, things were pretty smooth. I went on to make a lot of friends in middle school, play three sports in high school, and get all A’s in the classroom. Other than the occasional stress or sadness, I was, for all intents and purposes, happy.
Fast forward three years to senior year. I had seen friends change, time go by quickly, and more than anything, I wasn’t ready for college, creating an incredibly anxious interior for myself. So, I started to write music.
I released some of the music, was incredibly proud of it, and for the most part, got pretty positive receptions from the songs. Of course, the jerks and antagonists in my story would say otherwise behind their little keyboards, but at the moment, I could handle it just fine.
A couple months later, I felt like I was on a high, figuring out my post-grad plans, hanging with some new people at the end of high school, and just living freely, and I wanted others to feel the same. So, I started tweeting out compliments to people on Twitter. I’ll never forget, two days later, one of those aforementioned bullies decided to bash me about that too, again, behind his keyboard. I had never gone from such a high to such a low so quickly, and to see my peers and friends supporting his actions, I just didn’t want to be there anymore. In that town, in that school, or even really this planet, at that moment. It was something I never had really experienced before.
That was the first time I really thought being gone would solve my problems. Thank God to this day, I reached out to a former coach and teacher that Thursday evening, and he talked some sense into me. I missed a class here and there, talked to my mom about it, and most importantly, reconnected with my psychologist who ingrained the fact that this was all high school BS, and nothing, but especially that, was worth losing my life over.
My fellow students didn’t know how I felt, and because of that, I forgive them but will never forget how they made me feel that week in early March.
Fast forward two years and I’m a sophomore at UW. I got my best GPA taking 17 credits, I achieved my lifelong goal of interviewing LeBron James, and I had just returned from St. Louis covering the Badgers in the NCAA Tournament. I was so happy.
The details generally take me back to a dark place, but yet another person, and I swear on everything this came out of nowhere, decided to attack and crush me online. To this day, I had no idea on Earth what prompted this, and we were not just in high school anymore either. This person had a prominent following on Twitter, I was stressed about finals in school, and quite frankly, I was scared. I didn’t have a roommate, I had done everything I really set out to do at that point, and I was so tired. Tired of school, tired of struggling to balance anxiety and happiness just to make it through the day, and tired of just having to work so hard to brush off someone’s awful and ignorant opinion just to be able to move on with my life. This was the second time I thought being dead would solve all of my problems. And this time, I started to act on it. I busted the window of my dorm, and started to climb out of it at 4:38 am on a Thursday morning.
Again, thank GOD, I didn’t want to be dead. I never wanted to stop living, but I was so sick of having to fight so hard every day to make it through, and I thought it would help solve my current problems. I called my mother, crawled back into my room, and checked myself in. This time, it got a little too real.
We are coming up on two years since that dark, dark night, and thanks to God, good friends that have had my back, and more than anything, my incredible, strong family, I have never gone back to that place, both literally and metaphorically.
I have been sad and even depressed since then. I lost a grandfather that I was incredibly close with, several classmates and a really good friend. Some days are better than others, and some are worse. I have shared my mental health battles with professors, and some are much more understanding than the majority. Regardless, I might not have those incredible highs as often anymore, but I also don’t experience the lows, and will absolutely never let myself get back to that place, no matter what, because of myself, as well as those that love me.
College, although it may not always look that way, has been difficult for me. I miss my family, I miss hanging out with the same groups of people all the time, I miss playing sports, and sometimes I even miss some of my high school teachers and relationships with them.
But, I have made the most of it. I have not tried to hurt myself in nearly two years. I am set to graduate at the end of this year. I have made good friends, and I have worked my tail off to get to where I am today. Everyday may be a battle, but for the most part, I am pretty happy with where I am in my life.
And the crazy thing is, this whole basketball and mental health connection brings things full circle. I think part of why I fell in love with covering basketball is because when you’re there, you are there. You are at the arena, surrounded by crowd noise, entranced by the beautiful game, attracted to players and their reactions. An escape from reality.
But now, some of the biggest stars at the highest level of basketball are bringing mental health into the conversation. I’m not completely surprised, and yet sometimes I am, especially considering where this nation was just a few years ago on the topic, specifically on men and sharing their feelings.
I felt compelled to write this because it obviously hits so close to home, but also, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, there is a real support system out there. I don’t want to lose anybody else to mental health issues, depression or suicide, and I know other readers don’t either. So yes, on some level, I do hope it inspires, as well as brings about love and understanding, which is still so important in this sometimes harsh world.
My name is Nick Osen. I love sports, grew up idolizing LeBron James, and I care about you.
What’s your story?